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Politics & Government

Sen. Blumenthal Says He Will Oppose Gorsuch If He's Out Of Mainstream


While Republicans are looking forward to confirming Neil Gorsuch as the next Supreme Court nominee, Democrats are haunted by the past and the Obama nominee who never even got a hearing. Of course, that was Judge Merrick Garland, a name that looms large in the mind of our next guest. Senator Richard Blumenthal is a Democrat from Connecticut. And he sits on the Judiciary Committee that is holding the confirmation hearings for Judge Gorsuch this week. Senator, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Great to be with you, Rachel. Thank you.

MARTIN: Is Judge Gorsuch qualified to sit on the Supreme Court?

BLUMENTHAL: He has impressive credentials. No question about his intellect. He's articulate. And he has been to good schools and has very impressive jobs and resume. But the question is not whether his opinions are readable but whether he's the right person for this job in his ability to stand up to the president, be independent. And his views on workers safety and consumer protection, women's health care, privacy, those kinds of views have to be very carefully scrutinized.

MARTIN: So what did you hear yesterday on those topics? Are you more reassured on those issues?

BLUMENTHAL: Yesterday was mainly a day for senators to open with their positions and for Judge Gorsuch to state his beginning remarks. I would say no. I was not reassured on any of these points. He barely mentioned judicial independence, despite the president's continuing attacks on judges, as in calling the jurist who ruled against him in the immigration Muslim ban case a so-called judge. And so I think he still has a very, very heavy burden to meet.

MARTIN: So you talk about judicial independence. It's something that you referenced yesterday in your own opening statement. We spoke with a former colleague of Judge Gorsuch's, someone who served with him on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. His name is Judge Michael McConnell. And I want to play a bit of that conversation for you and talk on the other side. Let's listen.


MICHAEL MCCONNELL: Judges who have come into their maturity under presidents Obama and George W. Bush are probably more acutely aware of the possibilities of executive overreach.

MARTIN: So he's suggesting there that presidential power has changed dramatically after 9/11, and that judges like Gorsuch who have come up in that era are more aware of the dangers of overreach because of that. What do you make of that argument?

BLUMENTHAL: The question is not whether he's aware of the danger of overreach or infringement on the powers of other branches but whether he is willing to stand up to it, speak out against it as I've asked him to do in denouncing the president's attacks on an independent judiciary. He has said that they're disheartening and demeaning. But he said it behind closed doors in the privacy of my office and my colleagues. And he needs to be very forthright and forthcoming because the independence of the judiciary has never been more important and never more threatened.

The possibility that the Supreme Court may have to rule on a subpoena for the president is no longer an idle possibility because of the news yesterday that the FBI's investigating Donald Trump's associates in connection with Russian meddling in our elections. No more idle speculation about the possibility of another United States versus Nixon. And so the awareness of presidential overreaching is fine. But the question is whether he will demonstrate it in action, not just words.

MARTIN: And I want to get to that revelation made yesterday by the director of the FBI James Comey in a moment. But I do want to ask about Merrick Garland. How much of your dissent is a kind of political retribution for the fact Republicans refused to let President Obama's nominee get a hearing?

BLUMENTHAL: There is no question that many of us continue to be very angry about the constitutional dereliction and obstruction in the Republican leadership's action preventing a vote, even a hearing on Merrick Garland, who was eminently qualified. And in fact, Judge Gorsuch I think would concede that he was eminently qualified. He shares many of the resume and credential aspects that Judge Gorsuch does. But I'm going to review this nominee's merits, qualifications, credentials independently of that anger. I'm going to set it aside because we have a very important responsibility. In fact, I think...

MARTIN: So you could see yourself voting for Gorsuch?

BLUMENTHAL: I have reached no conclusion. In fact, I'm going to be asking tough questions today. Assessing whether he can be independent and what his views are for example on Roe v. Wade. The president has established a litmus test. And Judge Gorsuch has to prove that he does not subscribe to that litmus test which is that he would overturn Roe v. Wade, he would strike down sensible measures on gun violence. He needs to discard and disavow that litmus test.

MARTIN: I want to move to a different topic before I let you go, you referenced it earlier. The director of the FBI yesterday went to Capitol Hill and publicly announced that the bureau is investigating possible cooperation between members of the Trump campaign and Russia. Do you anticipate that this investigation by the FBI will be conclusive when it's over?

BLUMENTHAL: I certainly hope it will be conclusive. And I have no doubt that the intelligence committees will demand a conclusive investigation. But at the end of the day, what's needed really is a special prosecutor to make sure it is conclusive. I've called for a special prosecutor for weeks now because the Department of Justice alone cannot do it. The attorney general has recused himself. The deputy attorney general must appoint a special prosecutor to be sure an independent, comprehensive, thorough and conclusive, credible investigation.

MARTIN: Senator Richard Blumenthal is a Democrat from Connecticut. Thanks so much for your time this morning.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.